A few days ago at a seminar conducted by the Daniel S. Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College, the Israel Peace Initiative (IPI) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, an attentive audience (but an uninterested Israeli public) was confronted with the sad truth: There is a full fledged peace initiative supported by the Arab League (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Peace_Initiative) that has been around now for 11 years, has been updated and improved upon by addressing Israeli concerns, has been restated and reconfirmed throughout the turmoil of the Arab Spring and keeps getting promoted by the Arab side. Despite the fact that in the view of quite a few local Middle East experts its benefits as a basis for negotiations outnumber its disadvantages by far, it has nevertheless not been graced with a single official Israeli response. Obviously we must then be talking about a serious threat to Israel’s body politic here – 11 years and no official response ? Israel’s continued refusal to respond will eventually be not only an insult, it may likely be a grave mistake of historic proportions.
A few basics of the Arab Peace Initiative (API):
1. It calls for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders – this call has recently been modified allowing for mutually agreeable border adjustments.
2. The Palestinian refugee issue is to be resolved in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and through mutual agreement. The “Right of Return” is not mentioned in the text and the “mutual agreement” obviously excludes any kind of mass return of refugees to Israel.
3. The creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
4. End of conflict.
5. A regional agreement between Israel and all 22 member states of the Arab League
6. A normalization of the relationship of Arab League Nations with Israel.
The API has the support of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) which includes Iran.
There is plenty of evidence that the Arab Peace Initiative (API) was seriously considered by Ehud Olmert during his premiership and that he came tantalizingly close to meeting the Arab League to discuss it in earnest. But alas, in the end he chickened out claiming that he wouldn’t be able to muster support at home. This of course contrary to the well known dictum that a Prime Minister, certainly one from a center-right party who will come up with a serious peace treaty will have all the public support he needs, and then some.
There remain some basic mismatches between the sides – Tel-Aviv University Professor Eyal Zisser quoting the late Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat says that the sides need a psychologist to move ahead. While Israel is in need of “love” and positive attention (which Egyptian President Anwar Sadat provided in 1977 when he came here and spoke in the Knesset), all the Palestinians want is a separation under reasonable terms – they really would rather not have anything to do with us other than the minimum necessary even though they and everybody else know that we are here to stay.
Since the API was not only addressed to the government of Israel but also to its people, the lack of an official response has not prevented the preparation of an unofficial response, by the Israeli Peace Initiative (IPI) (http://israelipeaceinitiative.com/) which proposes, sensibly enough, to make the API a basis for negotiations, as part of a regional process working in conjunction with bi-lateral and multilateral tracks to bypass the pitfalls of the bilateral talks with the Palestinians which have been stagnating ever since Netanyahu returned to the office of the Prime Minister. The IPI is a sophisticated response to a the solid base of an undetailed but promising API and should give our politicians plenty to think about.
Nevertheless, the Israeli political estabishment including the leader of the main opposition party remain uninterested in endorsing this initiative, if at all, in any proportion to its tremendous potential. For all intents and purposes the API could be a game changer not only with regard to our political future but our economic future as well.
A recent poll has indicated that 36% percent of the Israeli public haven’t heard of the API or are unfamiliar with its stipulations. Another 26% of the public have some knowledge of the details but have not made up their mind, either way. When confronted with the details of the initiative and the fact that its acceptance would mean the end of the conflict, 56% of the public embraced the API either whole-heartedly or were willing to “live with it”.
The government of Israel is negligent in the extreme in not formulating an encouraging response to the Arab Peace Initiative. A continued refusal to take a clear position will result in reality taking over. The last time this happened in a similar context when clear, tangible and reasonable peace proposals were rejected or not related to out of hand was in the early seventies of the last century – what happened then cost the State of Israel and its citizens dearly in life, property and economic development. Let’s nor miss this historic opportunity – Confucius said “The way out is through the door, why is it that no one will use this method?” The API is the door we must take now, as a basis for negotiations.